EU to launch Kosovo mission within days, officials say

Other News Materials 13 February 2008 17:16 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The European Union is set to launch a policing mission to Kosovo within days despite last-ditch attempts by Serbia and Russia to bring the issue to the UN, EU officials said Wednesday.

The decision to launch the 3,000-man police and justice mission "can be expected in the coming days," with the first deployment "probably within one to two weeks," a senior EU official said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia and Serbia called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in what analysts saw as a last- ditch attempt to block Kosovo's move towards independence.

Kosovo is widely expected to declare independence by Monday.

Both Russia and Serbia say that the EU's planned mission will be illegal unless it has the explicit backing of the UN Security Council - a body of which Russia is a permanent member with veto rights.

But EU officials insist that UN Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under UN administration after the ethnic war of 1999, is enough to make the planned mission legal - and that there is therefore no need to wait for further UN approval.

"On the whole, we are dealing with a continuation of 1244 ... It would be very difficult for an outside actor to block the process," a senior official said.

According to the EU's internal processes, the decision to launch the mission can only be taken by member states. The foreign ministers of the EU's 27 member states are set to meet in Brussels on Monday.

But officials said that the decision to approve the mission's operational plan and authorize its deployment could equally be taken before that meeting under a special "fast-track" procedure.

The planned mission, known as EULEX Kosovo, from the Latin word "lex," meaning "law," is intended to help the Kosovo authorities set up a functioning and multi-ethnic legal and justice system.

Of its 3,000 staff, some 2,000 are set to come from the EU's member states, while 1,000 are to be locally-recruited support staff. It is expected to cost around 200 million euros (290 million dollars) in the first 16 months of operations.

Policemen are to account for the bulk - around 1,500 - of the international contingent. An estimated 250 judges and prosecutors will also be sent, officials said.

The mission is expected to deploy in five waves and to become fully operational in four months' time.